Mr P R Mehta, President, Council of Architecture

Sub: Thoughts on the "role of the architect" with reference to events at IIA's 16th national convention

Dear Mr Mehta

I understood from your remarks in Indore on 26th December 1999 that the Council “is in the process of defining the role of the architect”. I have some thoughts on this matter that I would like to share with you. These are in the context of the events that occurred during the 16th national convention of the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) at Indore on 25-26 December 1999.

For the record, I will recapitulate these events and the ones leading up to them. I would also like to draw your attention to my articles in the current issues of Habitat International and Architecture+Design for a complete understanding of the context in which I am writing to you:

  • As you are aware, in October 1998 the Slum Networking project in Indore received the Aga Khan Award for architecture. As you are also aware, this was the second project in Indore to be so honored, the first having been Aranya (in 1995).
  • In December 1998, at IIA’s 15th national convention in Vizag, I included in my presentation the findings of an Impact Assessment Study of the slum project in Indore, which showed the ground realities to be very different from what is claimed for the purpose of the award.
  • On 9 December 1999, in response to my inquiry about if and when in the course of the 16th convention would Indore’s Aga Khan Award winning projects be visited, I received an e-mail from IIA Indore saying “There shall be a visit to the ARANYA”.
  • In Indore on 24 December 1999, even after several phone calls to the organizers, I was unable to ascertain the time of the visit.
  • On 25 December 1999 at the convention venue I was finally able to see the schedule and found that a visit was not included. The following happened in the course of the day: • I sat on a dharna outside the convention hall in protest over the exclusion of the two Aga Khan award winning projects from the deliberations on ‘Vision Beyond 2000’ and distributed a flier to the delegates (Encl.1). • Some local newspaper reporters who had been invited to the inaugural session, after reading my flier, came and told me that this point had also been raised at the press conference called by IIA on 23rd December. They took it up again inside the convention hall. • In the afternoon some people came and circulated amongst the delegates an appeal on behalf of slum dwellers requesting the architects to visit the award winning project and suggest solutions to the problems created by it (Encl.2) However, although the same issue was raised from three different quarters, IIA did not see it fit to respond, except to say to the newspaper reporters things like “slum networking is not architecture” (despite the Aga Khan Award for Architecture), it is too late to include this in the agenda (despite the confirmation on 9 December), the issue should have been raised at the national level in IIA, the issue should have been raised in the local chapter, etc.
  • On 26 December 1999 at the venue of the exhibition (where delegates spent nearly 3 hours of their packed schedule looking at tiles, jacuzzis and other things professionally more interesting than the projects honored with the profession’s highest award) some of us demonstrated outside. There were a few slum dwellers, some public-spirited citizens and myself. This is what happened:
  • We carried placards (text in Encl.3) and sang parodies of film songs (Encl.4).
  • A commercial band hired by the IIA was instructed to play loudly each time we raised slogans
  • We went into the area where delegates were having breakfast
  • Professional architects from IIA Indore threw us out and other professional architects from all over India watched us being thrown out. Even after the demonstration IIA did not see it fit to respond to the issue raised!
  • All this was happening outside the convention even as, as per press reports as well as the souvenir containing the collection of “technical papers”, inside the convention there seems to have been a lot of TALK about social responsibility, role of the architect, urban poor, slums, etc! (Encl.5)
  • But the image of the profession is based, not on talks inside convention halls, but on actions outside it. Perhaps for the first time in the history of IIA’s conventions the public took note of the profession. And if the press coverage (other than IIA’s own press releases) is anything to go by, it has written off the profession just as it has written off the profession’s most honored projects! (Encl-6)

In the context of the foregoing I would like to raise the following issues:

Regarding the role of architects: The main issue here relates to whether there are adequate provisions in the professional code of conduct in the matter of making the architect accountable for his/her interventions in slums, low income housing, etc, where the project “beneficiaries” (or possibly “affected persons”) are not his/her paying clients.

  • If yes, what are these provisions and on what basis are they considered adequate?
  • If no, why are architects not forbidden to work as professional architects in these areas?

Regarding the role of the IIA: The main issue here relates to the “professional” rather than “club” functions of IIA. I wonder if the IIA is doing anything (and if the Council is ensuring that it is doing anything) to ensure, for instance, the following:

  • that accepted professional paradigms (at least ones embodied in law) are followed by professional architects and defaulting architects are identified for suitable action by the Council so that the profession has an image that is not clouded by nefarious building activity
  • that awarded projects, instead of being hurriedly extrapolated into education and policy, are monitored by the local IIA chapter to check if they really work even off the drawing board so that the quality of professional education and professional inputs to policy can be improved
  • that a platform is left open for hearing voices from the ground so that the profession does not become painted in villainous ivory-tower hues in the minds of people
  • that a platform is left open for professional dissent to be seriously discussed so that there is at least some public confidence in the objectivity of the professional collective What I would like you to tell me is:
  • If the IIA is not meant to be doing things like the above-mentioned, then who is and how? And, of course, why then is the IIA called IIA?
  • If the IIA is meant to be doing these things, then how do IIA and the Council explain the events outside IIA’s 16th National Convention and other matters in Indore relating thereto?

I have waited a month before writing to you in the hope that IIA itself would, with the business of the convention behind it, introspect a little bit on the events in Indore. But I, for one, see no evidence of such a thing having happened or any likelihood of its happening.

As a statutory body, the ultimate responsibility of the Council of Architecture is to protect the interest of the society. The urban poor constitute a majority in the urban society and most professional architecture is practiced in urban areas. I would, therefore, not be speaking out of turn to ask you, as the President of the Council of Architecture, to respond to my letter at the earliest.


Gita Dewan Verma


  1. Flier that I distributed among delegates on the morning of 25th December, 1999
  2. Text of the appeal distributed on behalf of slum dwellers in the afternoon of 25th December, 1999
  3. Text of placards at the demonstration on 26th December 1999
  4. Text of the parodies at the demonstration on 26th December 1999
  5. Words of “concern” inside the convention
  6. Actions of “indifference” outside the convention: press reports

cc (by Fax, without enclosures):
K Rajagopalan, National President, IIA (Fax no. 022-8268852)